IMO 2020 sulfur cap: lube producers take a pragmatic approach
There has been little reaction by way of statements or position papers from marine fuel lubricant manufacturers to the IMO MEPC70 proposals for a global fuel sulfur content cap of 0.5 percent by 2020 but they are fully aware of the implications of the proposed regulations and are taking what could be termed a ‘pragmatic approach’ to fuel regulation compliance.
Marine lubricant suppliers have avoided getting involved in the debate as to whether the IMO MEPC70 proposals to reduce permissible marine fuel sulfur content to 0.5 percent or less is good, bad (or indifferent) but are concentrating on ensuring that their products will satisfy regulatory requirements. For example, when the IMO proposals were published in October of last year, ExxonMobil announced the first firing of a new marine test engine that replicates the demanding field environment through scientifically derived operating conditions and speeds up the development of next-generation cylinder and system marine oil lubricants while also shortening the timeline to bring new products to market whilst taking into account any emissions evolved and ensuring regulatory compliance.
ExxonMobil had, in fact, already collaborated in April of last year with Fathom Maritime Intelligence on the market research and consultancy company’s report ‘The Impact of Regulation on Cylinder Oil Lubricant Selection’ which provided an overview of relevant legislation and regulations with respect to fuel sulfur content and SOx emissions. The report also reviewed the NOx emissions regulatory scene and described how the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) and the Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP), both of which came into force in January 2013, had been introduced with the intention of improving the energy efficiency of new vessels greater than 400 gross tonnes (GT) (although there are exceptions such as cruise ships etc for which deadweight tonnage is not an adequate representation of transportation capacity).
ExxonMobil also introduced a specialist marine fuel that was created to meet the IMO’s 0.1 percent per cent ECA sulfur cap formulated to help reduce operational complexity by providing fast and safe switchovers due to its higher viscosity and flashpoint than those of marine gas oil (MGO) and a minimized risk of thermal shock shutdowns due to handling and preheating practices similar to those employed for heavy fuel oil (HFO). In addition, the company developed a new cylinder oil designed to support marine operations in meeting the new lubrication challenges faced when using 0.1 percent sulfur fuel.
Opposite Approach: Lubes for High-Sulfur Fuel
In contrast, Chevron has taken a completely different approach by developing in collaboration with its customers and MAN Diesel & Turbo a new two-stroke cylinder lubricant designed for engines that run on high-sulfur fuel at low speeds. The company’s rationale for this is that the product provides the flexibility required for blending on board (BOB) and is the first 140BN cylinder lubricant that is OEM-approved for use on its own for ultra-high corrosion environments, thereby meeting the demands of the most modern high efficiency engines on the market. These newer engines have an increased tendency to develop cold corrosion inside the cylinder than do the older, less efficient units. To mitigate the effects of this highly corrosive environment, the easiest method is simply to increase cylinder lubricant feed rates but this is not always an economic strategy: it would be more efficient to switch to a higher-BN lubricant once a certain rate is reached, providing the same level of corrosion protection with less product injected into the cylinder.
Chevron employs on-board drip oil monitoring in conjunction with on-shore testing to provide data to enable a vessel to optimize the feed rate on board to balance wear against consumption, thereby ensuring low running costs. The company said it would continue to offer a full range of lubricants from low- to high-BN products to meet a wide range of operating conditions and provide optimal engine protection and cost management.
Presumably the company expects that ships will still be running on high-sulfur fuels after 2020 but that they will employ SOx abatement technologies to meet the IMO regulations.
Lubes for a New Era
“We are now entering into a multi-fuel era and the lube industry has had to develop products that are compatible with a new range of fuels and engine types,” succinctly summarized Serge Dal Farra, Global Marketing Director, Total Lubmarine. “Thanks to a wave of environmental regulations from the IMO and growing public pressure to clamp down on air pollution, ship operators, engine manufacturers and fuel suppliers alike have had to completely reassess their options. This has led to confusion for owners, operators and their crews.”
According to Dal Farra, close consultation with customers is central to understanding future demands. To date, there is not a consensus regarding how ships of the future will be fueled: LNG powered engines, scrubber systems, biofuels, fuel cells or marine gas oil are all ‘on the table’ as potential solutions. While the course ahead is fuzzy, one thing is clear: whichever choice is made, it will impact the choice of lube.
“Total Lubmarine’s response has been to develop a range of high and low BN lubes that meet our customers’ needs, whatever fuel or engine type they choose,” said Dal Farra. “From our Talusia Universal 100 product with its properties to fight cold corrosion down to our Talusia LS 25 a cylinder oil suitable for slow-speed two-stroke engines running on ECA fuels below 0.1 percent sulfur, we have developed a range of strong performing lubes. In 2016 Total Lubmarine launched Optima, a cylinder lube oil compatible with high sulphur heavy fuel oils and ultra-low sulphur distillate fuels based on an innovative new chemistry.”
In a complex environment, monitoring the lubes, engine and auxiliary equipment performance is more important than ever before. A ship can have up to 100 types of different marine equipment on-board, each of which needs attention. The challenge for ship operators is to safely and efficiently match the marine lubricant to the equipment, adhering to any OEM warranty and service guidelines. “Total Lubmarine offers on-board testing kits as well as a network of laboratories for more detailed analysis including kinematic viscosity, insolubles, flashpoint, water content, base number (BN), PQ index, metal content, acid number (AN),” said Dal Farra.
Total’s role in the shipping industry continues to evolve. “Our affiliate Total Marine Fuels Global Solutions is committed to multi-fuel types for the shipping industry,” said Dal Farra. “LNG will become an increasingly important part of the energy mix for ships and we are building an LNG bunkering structure to facilitate this. We are also committed to renewables including solar power.
Last year Total acquired battery maker Saft Groupe which will become our spearhead in electricity storage. We believe that there will be growing trend towards hybrid-electric propulsion systems for new ships. Developing the right lubricants for these systems will be inevitably take on greater importance over the coming years.”
Marine Lubricant Innovation
Shell Marine Products has responded to the changing market conditions with what it describes as ‘an intense program’ of marine lubricant innovation and observed that beyond 2020 shipowners face uncertainty, with an IMO review in 2018 determining global regulation and the European Union already committed to further limiting sulfur fuel content from 2020 regardless of what the IMO proposes.
In addition, the company recognizes the need to develop ship engines for lower-sulfur-content heavy fuel oil (HFO) and new fuel types as a result of years of oil inflation that caused owners to cut operating speeds for the bulk of their existing tonnage. It notes that despite recent falls in oil prices, engines fed by HFO continue to run predominantly at part loads which makes them vulnerable to cold corrosion.
Jan Toschka, General Manager of Shell Marine Products, said that the considered response to these variables from the cylinder oil development perspective has been a portfolio of lubricants for two-stroke engines broad enough to accommodate different imperatives:
“The cost and reliability of vessel operations can be affected by changes to a number of different factors,” he said. “These include fuel sulfur content, but also climatic conditions such as high humidity, liner wall temperatures, and engine load influences such as hull fouling and propeller efficiency, changes to engine settings and operating conditions. In a changing regulatory landscape, SMP has invested in a broad range of cylinder oils for two-stroke engines and now offers cylinder oils with base numbers ranging from 25BN to 100BN to take account of different fuel sulfur contents, vessel operating profiles and engine loads.
“Shipowners and operators are as focused on fuel prices as they have always been, but new cylinder oils have been required at a time when wear rates and equipment protection are under unprecedented scrutiny. Today, customers want precise answers on wear rates and sulfur neutralization, on feed rates, thermal stresses and acid stresses. Of course, they have always needed to know that they were not spending too much on lubes, only now the conversation is not about the cost of the product alone, but about the total cost of ownership,” he concluded.
ExxonMobil: New test engine optimizes fuel and lube performance
Last October ExxonMobil completed the first firing of a new crosshead slow-speed test engine to drive forward the company’s research and development of next-generation cylinder and system oils for the marine industry.
The company said the bespoke engine would provide it with a platform for meeting the needs of increasingly complex engine designs driven by changing regulations affecting the industry, including new challenges on engine lubrication stemming from operation under more varied and demanding conditions.
The test engine’s advanced method for lubricant development is designed to help speed up the timeline for bringing to market next-generation cylinder oils that are aligned to customers’ needs and that help them to address tomorrow’s challenges in improving engine protection and performance. The test engine offers specialist capabilities due to its rapidly configurable bore-stroke ratio and its ability to simulate a wide range of new engine design parameters. ExxonMobil’s research and engineering teams can also apply scientifically-derived operating conditions to replicate the demanding field environments to which marine lubricants are exposed, as well as operate the engine with a range of different fuels and specific high- and low-base-number (BN) cylinder oils.